In our Open Studio Tour series, we step inside the creative spaces of Etsians to see where their process begins. Consider this a chance to get to know your fellow makers and find inspiration for your own space. Today we visit the Baltimore studio of Christine Tillman. Make sure you also check out Christine’s fantastic Flickr photostream!
Where is your studio situated?
My studio is a spare bedroom on the third story of my 130-year-old duplex in the Hampden neighborhood in Baltimore. Seen the John Waters movie Pecker? That’s essentially where I live.
My husband is also an artist, and he uses the other spare bedroom as his studio. When we bought the house back in 2003 we immediately knew these would be his and hers studios! We don’t often keep the same studio hours — if I’m in my studio, he’s often downstairs working on Printeresting. Our big issue is that he’s always sneaking my tape (I found four rolls of packing tape in there yesterday!). Not that I’m any kind of a saint; since our attic door is in his studio, I’m always leaving boxes and packing supplies in his studio when I’m too lazy to crawl up the attic ladder. He always puts the boxes back in my studio with a sassy note attached.
Do you think your studio reflects your personality?
Yes. I was once described as having an effervescent personality. I’m a bit bubbly. My studio is white, functional and filled with books, tools and materials, and cascades of party supplies. It matches my drawings.
When did you decide that you needed a studio? I have an MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Iowa that I received back in 2002. The graduate painting department was housed in this fantastic old frat house which we used as studios. Each of us had our own separate room that used to be a bedroom, and there was a large communal critique and gallery space on the first floor. That space was fantastic. We had the perfect mix of privacy and community.
I moved to Baltimore right out of school. The first year out of school is really hard, but my husband (who I met at Iowa) and I dedicated a 10’x 10’ room in our little rental house as a studio/office space. Honestly, it was little more than a work table, but it kept me making art. When we moved to our current home, we quadrupled the space we have for our studios.
Did you make any sacrifices to create your studio?
Having my studio and my home life in the same space has been crucial. I teach painting, drawing and sculpture full time to high school kids at The Park School of Baltimore. By keeping my studio in my house, I can work in the studio every day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes on the phone. However, working out of a bedroom has its trade-offs. The closest sink is on the second floor, and the utility sink is one floor below that. Plus we have two cats that seem to know no boundaries. My studio has to be completely non-toxic and cat proof! I’m working on a large Mylar sculpture made of a patchwork of small woven plaid squares made from party streamers. My cats want nothing more than to chew on that stuff, so I have to store it in the closet or in sealed Ziploc bags. I even have to store the loom in one of the drawers of my flat file when I’m not working on it because they’ve been known to chew the warp off the loom!
What is you favorite tool in your workspace?
Hands down, my sketchbook. I’ve been drawing in it daily since 2006. I also like my Japanese hole punch.
How often do you clean it?
Once every year and a half or so — I’m a pretty neat worker, so it’s not so much that the place needs sweeping. Every 18 months I go through everything and decide what I still need. That’s a great time to be one of my nieces, since I often give them boxes of supplies.
Where do you find all of the objects that decorate your studio?
It’s a mix. Looking around I see an old glass ornament from an auction in Iowa, a wooden tree from a church rummage sale in Baltimore, a postcard from Niagara Falls, the back of a Ritz cracker box that had a shape I liked, honeycomb party bells and balls, pennant flags from Home Depot, a string of pony beads made for me by a third grader and a string of fabric yo-yo’s from my mom.
What object in your studio inspires you the most?
Above my work desk are all kinds of streamers, flags, garlands, and party balls. I’m really interested in celebrations and the objects we use to define party space. I like that they’re simple, cheap, lightweight, and democratic. It doesn’t take much more than a bunch of crepe paper, balloons, scotch tape, and Christmas lights to transform the high school gym into a dreamy prom. Of course, I think that stuff has a bit of an edge to it. We use it for celebrations, but it’s completely cheap and hollow — much different than the emotions we attach to that kind of event. For the last few years, clustered shapes and patterns have been drooping down and growing up from the top and bottom edges of my drawings.
How do your studio surroundings inspire your work?
At this point I feel like I’ve been in my weird, quirky, kitschy, neighborhood in Baltimore that I just see its odd charms as home. Back when we moved here I was so excited that some of my neighbors’ lawns feature Astroturf instead of grass. It was like living in my favorite thrift store.
Is there something in your studio that has a great story behind it?
I work in a school and, while I teach 9-12 grade, I have lots of objects from kids of all ages hanging around. My three favorites are a small piece of orange felt in which a third grader wrote “school rocks out loud,” my paper-mâché owl mascot that I liberated from the middle school art room, and a “necklace” that one of my favorite former students made back when he was a sophomore. It’s awesome and features sparkly string filled with random things from his room, like a dream catcher, a yellow plastic K’nex toy, a key, and a little yellow shoe with a red pom pom on top. It’s actually totally hip and I should probably wear it.